Saturday, June 25, 2016

The next Brexit.

Long story short.  The pollsters, the elites, the all-knowing miss it again.  Britain's vote to exit the European Union sent shock through the markets (do not fret, they always overreact, up and down, to events), but more importantly, through England and Europe. The American pundits (and the Administration) pointed to xenophobia as the root evil that led the unwashed classes to vote Leave. But on the ground, a different story unfolded.

To be sure, rising anxiety over the impact of EU immigration policy played a role.  But it was no blind xenophobia. Instead, it was a growing realization (or belief, if you will) that the type of power the EU exercised over national immigration policy was not in England's best interest.  The Paris and German attacks (and surely those in the US) made the wide welcome of refugees from the Middle and Near East seem irrational.  All the calls for humane treatment seem shallow when you are washing the blood off the sidewalk.

Now, dont misunderstand.  There is racism. there is xenophobia.  What our President has consistently done is emphasize the worst element of our polity as THE reason for an event; he does this, clearly, to achieve some political advantage. But the truth is much more nuanced.  Many voters in England simply did not understand why bureaucrats in the EU should be telling them how to manage their own policy. On this any many other issues, people feel disengaged from the decision-makers.  That is the seed of populist revolt. We want to make our own decisions. We despise the powerful (leaders, bankers, lobbyists, fill in your own blanks) who take our inherent right to decide for ourselves.

Now, underlying this overall motivation and angst (which is easily turned to anger), is certainly some racism, some xenophobia.  What we need to do is to separate those motivations, or at a minimum, not combine them into one indistinguishable lump.

For example, the current gun debate.  We can all agree that the sheer numbers of gun deaths in the US is a national failure.  We all want a solution. But when we conflate the problem without clearly and intelligently separating the causes, we end up with solutions that fail.

Ban all guns is not a solution, unless you ignore the fact that the vast majority of gun crimes are committed with illegally obtained guns.  With over 300 million existing guns in the US, a ban without a massive government confiscation would be useless. So we focus on gun background checks.  Yet, as evidence for the effectiveness of those checks, we end up looking at numerous cases of mass murder where the assailants either passed checks, or would have.  Tell me how you predict violent criminal behavior of mentally ill individuals (which we can nearly unanimously agree seems like a good idea), and I will tell you you have solved the problem of humanity.  Was the Orlando shooter on a terror watch list?  No, but it appears he should have been. Which leads us to ask why he wasn't.  How can we expect putting teeth into a terror watch list stop mass shootings, if we cannot even vet those budding terrorists with long and clear ties to the seeds of hate?

And why do we focus on mass shootings, when the vast, vast majority of gun deaths in this country are not the headline gleaning mass killings?  The mass killings are a misdirection.  The solutions are never easy, and when we jump to them, (oh I have heard the arguments that if the law prevents one killing it will be worth it), what we end up with is fake solution. And that leads us away from a real and deep consideration of the problem, as we go onto another problem.

The  world appears on the verge of a populist uprising, where the people have the power to direct their leaders in ways not seen for decades.  Ask yourself, are we ready to lead ourselves? Are we ready to accept that deep and difficult responsibility to think problems through, to listen to each other fairly for solutions that work, and to make policies that get at the root problems, and then follow them up each day to insure they work?  If we are not, if we do not have that public commitment, the populism we may get may be the most dangerous thing we can do?

On the other hand, how much worse can it get leaving the power where it currently lies.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Excellent piece. We were in Scotland during the vote last week and found it fascinating how they and the Northern Irish overwhelmingly want to stay in the EU. Also, the demographics in England were interesting....."older" voters for Leave and "younger" voters for Stay with the typical break between rural/urban and college graduate/non-graduate.

Also loved your comments about direct democracy. That's a fascinating debate which has been going on since the Greeks. Although it leads to deadlock a lot (maybe a good thing?) I prefer a representative government. With our initiative system here in California, we have direct democracy that can be very harmful. When only 30-40% of citizens vote, we end up with a very small "majority" deciding very important things. Even in Britain where turnout was 70%, 52% of that number isn't a majority of the citizenship.

I was hoping you'd comment on Brexit! Thanks.....